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Many students believe they have "bad" or faulty memories. The real problem usually relates not to impaired brain function, but rather to unrealistic expectations about how their memories should work. Many students simply do not approach their studies with a strategy that facilitates long-term recall of their course work. These students have neglected to study so as to enhance their recall. They have failed to recognize that understanding is not the same as remembering.
For university students it is important to distribute your practice; that is, review newly-learned material often, starting as soon as possible after the new material is first encountered, spacing several review sessions between the initial study session(s) and the final review sessions before an exam. Several brief intermediate reviews of course material serve to refresh your memory for the details and also afford you opportunities to see emerging patterns, connections, and relationships among ideas and concepts. Frequent effective reviewing not only helps to reinforce your recall of important concepts, but also highlights areas where your comprehension and recall may be faulty. The sooner you identify areas of uncertainty and confusion, the better. You can take action early to eliminate your problems so as to avoid last-minute panic while cramming for a test. In so doing, you counteract the natural process of forgetting. If you do not review regularly, and if regular reviewing is not built into the class discussions, lectures, and the texts, then you are likely to forget significant portions of what you learn, even if you understand the material well. Then your final review sessions before an exam become re-learning sessions that may make you feel nervous and anxious.
Mnemonic devices have helped many students. In general, mnemonic devices refer to systems and techniques that aid and improve recall. They also can function as useful retrieval cues when you employ relational unerstanding or chunking. Such techniques are consistent with established principles of learning and memory such as meaningfulness, association, organization, visualization, attention, and interest. They can include abbreviations, acronyms, rhymes, images, numbers, phonetics, and so on. They involve associating the details you wish to recall with something else that is memorable because it is funny, bizarre, vulgar, or sensual, for instance. To cite one example, you could recall the spectral classifications of stars used by astronomers by remembering the mnemonic "Ottawa boasts a fine gorilla, knowing many new stars." The first letters of each word in the sentence correspond to the classifications O, B, A, F, G, K, M, N, S commonly used to classify stars.
One key advantage of mnemonics is that they help you to test your memory. Various other strategies exist for this as well -- re-do assignments, essay questions, cue-cards for terminology, anticipate questions on the exams (these may come from old assignments, class, essay questions, labs, chapter reviews, tutorial discussions, past exams, study partners, study guides etc... ), look at past tests, sketch out answers to these questions, form a study group to make questions and discuss answers from memory (try to answer detail questions, concept questions, and questions which focus on their relationship to the course and beyond from memory ), write key course ideas on strips of paper or use flashcards and randomly choose these to talk about. Maybe choose three strips at random and discuss their meaning and interrelationships. Lay the strips all out on a table and organize them into categories or draw information maps. From memory, answer questions you generated in step two. Have somebody quiz you, practice labelling diagrams, and filling in charts. When making notes, use organizing feature to suggest rehearsal mode; e.g. the Cornell method, which uses key words in a column, is good for definitions. Self testing provides feedback which is an important ingredient to any good study routine.
Feedback should be collected both during the term and from your own work during study through self-questioning and self-testing techniques. Using the feedback you collect is vital in improving your approach to your course content. Some feedback comes from assignments and tests in the course but many students find these too infrequent to give them a clear sense of how they are faring in the course. For this reason, it can be very important to make your own feedback. One of the best ways is to test yourself regularly. There are many kinds of tests and exams, but in general, the preparation steps described above will be effective regardless of the testing format. Some students mistakenly assume that they should focus exclusively on memorizing details when the format is multiple choice, and on broad patterns when the format is short answer or essay. In fact, you also need to see the broad patterns, connections, and relationships to be successful with multiple choice tests, and you need to be able to provide supporting details to write effective short answers and essay answers. Though these general strategies can go a long way to improving your approach to studies, you may find it helpful to consider some specialized preparation strategies and in-test strategies for multiple choice and essay style exams.